Turkish Catch 22: Erdogan intolerable for NATO; Turkey indispensable (Comment: Special to IANS)

What is the link between Brexit and the failed coup in Turkey? They ring alarm bells for NATO in the time of Trump, Sanders, Corbyn, Pablo Iglesias, Marine Le Pen and gathering anti-establishment storms elsewhere. The global rightwing establishments are tearing their hair. Donald Trump, Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, once the torch bearer of American Exceptionalism, has broken from the past. America has no right to lecture anyone, he told the New York Times. “We have to fix our own mess.”

Formal disengagement of Britain from Europe weakened the Atlantic Alliance in a way that Europe may, in monuments of pressure, be amenable to Russian blandishments. This is anathema to the Deep State in Washington, Trump or no Trump

All the hyperactivity of NATO members recently in Warsaw had a supreme purpose: to firm up in the Alliance what Donald Rumsfeld famously called New Europe. Old Europe, France and Germany, have become too effete and independent minded. Also, no one knows what continental Europe will look like after elections next year.

These must be desperate times. In the short run, the only point the West can score over Putin is to blacken the names of Russian athletes for “officially sponsored drug abuse” preparatory to the Rio Olympics. And, wait for the American election results.

Into this chaotic cauldron, toss in Erdogan, a key NATO member and his post coup tantrums.

But why is he throwing such a ginger fit? After all, the post coup scenario could well be placing in his hands power that dictators dream of. This causes some analysts to talk of a “false flag”. The Turkish Sufi cleric exiled in the US, Fethullah Gulen, has already made the allegation: the coup may have been staged to arrest Gulen and his supporters. Indeed a list of thousands of teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges cannot have been prepared overnight without extensive planning. But Ankara blames Gulen for plotting the coup.

What is causing gripes in the West after the failed coup is a general sense of relief in Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and southern Lebanon (Hezbullah country). An inference is that the coup’s success would have been welcomed by the West.

The rift between Erdogan and Washington is now a yawning gap. There must be deep consternation in all NATO countries at the continuance of a recalcitrant, increasingly Islamist Turkey in the Alliance. Something must give – and soon.

A well connected Indian businessman in Istanbul on the day of the coup endorses a popular narrative. The coup would have succeeded had the coup leader not set the cat among the pigeons. He called on the forces to arrest all ISIS hands convalescing in hospitals or wherever they can be located.

Versions coming out of Ankara are something of a puzzle. These suggest that CIA interests in Turkey were averse to ISIS being wiped out. Considering that a universal war on the ISIS has supposedly been ordered by Washington, why this squeamishness about destroying “all” ISIS targets in Turkey? It is just possible that the ISIS was an amalgam of diverse components and that some of these components needed to be preserved.

The other mistake the coup leaders made was to call back Turkish troops from Iraq without intimating US commanders who were on the drawing boards for an operation in Mosul after the successful operation in Fallujah last month.

If the coup had proceeded on track without harming US interests/assets, Erdogan’s goose was more or less cooked. Now that Erdogan has survived, another attempt to do away with him by a bigger, better planned operation must be on the cards. He is filled with anger and rage against Americans. In this mood of his, how reliable a member of NATO is he? Can the Alliance be quite as credible without NATO’s largest army and nuclear facility which happens to be at Incirlik. It was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the height of the Cold War. It is no longer a military secret that the facility still holds 50 B61 hydrogen bombs, each 100 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima.

And just imagine, Erdogan cut off electricity to Incirlik. Why Incirlik? Because he conflated Gulen with Americans? Gulen does have extensive institutional power in Turkey which Americans have had access to for years. Gulen runs his Turkish Empire from his headquarters in Pennsylvania. This explains Erdogan’s caustic comment after the coup failed “Turkey cannot be governed from Pennsylvania”.

NBC news gave currency to a dramatic story. On hearing of the coup, Erdogan rushed to Istanbul where his plane was not allowed to land. The flight was diverted to Germany apparently in such of exile. It was refused landing rights – this was the pattern elsewhere too. Then, miraculously, Erdogan materializes in Turkey just when coup leaders embark on initiatives which the US is averse to. The story acquires more layers when the two Turkish pilots, who brought down two Russian pilots on 24 November, 2015, are named among those held by forces loyal to Erdogan.

F16 fighters controlled by coup leaders were refueled by facilities at the US base at Incirlik.

Erdogan now is intolerable for NATO; Turkey is indispensable to it. That is the Catch 22.

(A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on saeednaqvi@hotmail.com. The views expressed are personal.)



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